I often watch speakers stand before an audience and work to build a case for their ideas. They would be more successful if instead they tried building a relationship with the people in the room. The word communication comes from the Latin word communis, meaning “common.” Before we can communicate we must establish commonality. The greater the commonality, the greater the potential for connection and communication. The goal of effective communication is to prompt people to think, Me too! Too many speakers seem to elicit the thought So what?
The most effective way to connect with others is by asking questions. All of us have experienced the interest of others when we were lost and asked for directions. People will usually stop what they’re doing to help others. Questions connect people.
Of course, you have to ask the right questions. In 2013 I was invited to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Every golfer dreams of playing this great course, but being asked to play it with the best golfers in the world was beyond my dreams! For the event, another amateur and I were paired with two pros: Steve LeBrun and Aaron Watkins. We had such a great time. But let me tell you something: over the four days of golf with them, the professional golfers never once asked me any questions about golf. Not once did they ask me to help them line up a putt or to give advice about what club they should use. Why? Those weren’t the right questions to ask me. I have nothing of value to offer them in that area of their lives. I am an amateur. On the other hand, they did ask me a lot of questions about personal growth, leadership, and book writing. In fact, they even asked if I would sign books for them.
What you ask matters. So does how you ask. If we want to connect with people, we can be like the census taker who had driven many miles down a remote country road to reach a mountain cabin. As he pulled up, a woman sitting on the porch yelled at him, “We don’t want any. We’re not buying anything.”
“I’m not selling anything,” the census taker said. “I’m here to take the census.”
“We don’t have one,” the woman said.
“You don’t understand,” the census taker said. “We’re trying to find out how many people there are in the United States.”
“Well,” she said, “you sure wasted your time driving out here to ask me, because I don’t have any idea.”
As playwright George Bernard Shaw observed, “The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”
John C. Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership (New York City, NY: Center Street, 2014).
I believe asking questions is one of the best ways to teach. Toward this end, I have devoted a good part of my life to writing discussion-based Bible study lessons that have groups talking. Check them out at www.mybiblestudylessons.com